It often occurs to me that ideas are cyclical. It’s true in other mediums too (everything in film gets a reboot, right?) but sometimes I hear about a new YA book and it reminds me of something in an adult genre (think Twilight as a YA revamp of Dracula, or the Hunger Games as a reboot of the Japanese movie, Battle Royale). So it was great to read an article on Brain Pickings that quoted folk musician Pete Seeger saying, “we are all links in a chain” just taking an old idea and adding a new twist (he titled his album after the process). Even Mark Twain agreed:
There’s a good line in a very bad teen movie by Nicholas Sparks (where someone inevitably dies of cancer, characters declare their feelings every other line and everybody cries a lot), when the main character asks the other, what are you reading? She tells him she’s reading Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (we’re supposed to be impressed) and he says that actually she isn’t; she’s reading the translation. It’s an astute point for a teen movie and quite true. For Karenina alone there are 1,123 different editions listed on Goodreads and surely they all must bring something different to the masterpiece.
It’s an interesting point, isn’t it? Sometimes I read a translated book and I wonder if there isn’t a better version. I loved Kafka’s Metamorphosis. I hated Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared. Both were translated into English. So whose book was I actually reading? Is it the authors? Or is it the translator’s take on the author’s idea? How does that process work? How far can they stray?
Of course, I could test my theory and read the same book by two different translators. But I have too many books to read and too little time; I have to read one version of Anna Karenina before I can get to the other 1,122…
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I read an article recently that brought to mind something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; do you need to like the characters very much in order to enjoy a particular story? My book, The Sham has a lot of not-very-nice girls which seems to be following a trend in YA at the moment and certainly it’s quite common in adult fiction too. I enjoyed Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on The Train precisely because the main character was so unreliable. I loved her because of her faults, not in spite of. The same for Gone Girl; while I couldn’t exactly relate to the notion of faking my own death, I still loved the book.
I read something disturbing recently. A blog post on truth-out.org reported that in 2014, only 12% of the top grossing US movies included female protagonists. It also made me realise how few superheroes in film are women – something I don’t think about too often! – but as I raise a little girl, it’s a wider issue that bothers me. Particularly when it sometimes feels that her choice of role models is limited to ridiculous juveniles from Disney or simpering princesses at the toy shop. Thankfully she’s not crazy about either, but it got me thinking, who are our new girl heroes? The best girl crushes? Who do our little girls aspire to be?
I find it bizarre that people still buy DVDs when you can stream most of the movies you want for the same price per month as you’d pay for one film in a shop. And I look at people as if they’re dinosaurs when they show me CDs they’ve bought from actual record shops (do these even still exist?) when I listen to all my music online from spotify. Legally. For free. So it would seem logical that I would run towards a streaming service for books – makes sense, right? – and I’ve been trialling Scribd for a while (8.99 for unlimited reading each month) but it’s obviously more tricky when I’m wearing my author hat and I wonder if this sort of service is as appropriate for authors as it is for other creative genres.
Turns out, it’s a bit of a thorny issue.
Sex is difficult for authors to write about in any genre, you only need to look at the Bad Sex Awards which take place every year and always feature really well-known and revered writers. But it’s doubly difficult if your audience is YA; How much do you include? Where do you draw the line? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, prompted by slightly differing posts from BookRiot here and BookDaily here.